Salida stings ‘Horns in state quarters |

Salida stings ‘Horns in state quarters

Aspen Times photo/Daniel Bayer.Basalt's A.J. Hobbs (18) and Ben Pollock (9) combine to shield Salida's Victor Short from the ball during a quarterfinal match of the Class 3A State Boys Soccer Tournament Tuesday afternoon in Salida. Salida won 1-0 to earn its first trip to the state final four.
Daniel Bayer © 2003 | Daniel Bayer © 2003

SALIDA – After 70-plus minutes of scoreless soccer, with Basalt and Salida attacking and counterattacking with equal fervor into and against a stout westerly wind, Salida’s patient faith in its system prevailed Tuesday afternoon.

After stymying the Longhorns’ 40 minutes with the wind in the first half, Salida continued to lay in wait until finally realizing a golden opportunity on a corner kick with eight minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the second half.

Junior Beau Brantley’s cross to the far post was timed perfectly by charging senior Ty Shelton, who headed it to the corner of the net, leaving Basalt sophomore goalie Jamie Wirkler without a chance.

Falling back on their ball-control style of play to an even greater degree to preserve the lead, Salida managed to squander Basalt’s possessions and opportunities down the stretch to seal the 1-0 win.

No. 3 seed Salida, 16-0, now advances to the final four of the Class 3A Boys State Soccer Tournament for the first time in its 20-plus year history.

No. 6 Basalt, meanwhile, concluded its season at 12-3-1 overall.

While it was a game that Basalt hardly lost – Salida, more accurately, won it with mechanical execution on the one set piece – still the feeling of disappointment was poignant on the Basalt sideline afterward.

“Honestly – it sucks,” Basalt’s leading scorer, sophomore Felipe Sanchez, said.

“We just couldn’t finish the opportunities we had, and they capitalized on one they had. It’s not my last year, I have have two more chances to get that No. 1 feeling, but I feel bad for the seniors. We couldn’t do it for them.”

On the Salida High School field, surrounded by lofty peaks and some Fourteeners of the Sawatch Mountains, Salida’s undefeated streak this season has included eight wins and not a single goal allowed. And on the road, Salida has only allowed five goals this season.

Staying true to form, it seems, Tuesday’s match featured a feisty Salida defensive front that was matched for 70 minutes by Basalt’s relentless defensive core. Much of the game played out in the midfield, where both teams scrapped to make good on possessions.

Basalt’s Sanchez had two shots on goal in the first half, a couple more in the second half, but each shot resulted in manageable saves for the Salida keeper thanks to the proximity of his ball-swarming defenders. Sanchez’s moments of opportunity were always fleeting.

Another chance for Basalt came when senior Cy Eaton ripped a blast from the top of the goalie box, but a ball-hawking Salida defender stood in its path to deflect it out of bounds.

Despite the wind advantage, Basalt came away scoreless in the first half, decidedly shifting momentum to the Salida side.

“We wanted to play possession ball in the first half,” said first-year Salida head coach Scott McFarland, a former player at the University of Maine. “We told the boys if we can move the ball around, we thought we could tire ’em out in the second half and get past ’em.”

“We’re a ball-control team, we always like to be moving the ball around, and sooner or later we find goals.”

That seemed to be in question as the second half churned on scoreless, however. Basalt’s defense gained confidence against Salida’s top ball-handlers and distributors, and Basalt wingbacks A.J. Hobbs and Omar Saucedo combined to clamp down on the wings so other defenders could collapse on a defensible middle of the field.

“I told the boys we needed a goal in the first half,” Basalt head coach Erik Streff said, recognizing the role of the wind in the match. “But [Salida] played a little more defensive than we did in the first half.

“I didn’t change anything up in the second half,” Streff continued. “We just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities that we did have, and that’s been our problem all year.”

“It’s sad; it hurts,” said Sanchez. “They got us.”

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